Now, I have to say this one is deliciously amusing. You might remember that a few weeks ago, a number of Liberal Democrats (including Caron Lindsay, Prue Bray and our dear old friend Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson) almost seemed to be going out of their way to demonstrate that they have no comprehension at all of the voting system for local government elections that their own party was largely responsible for introducing under the second McConnell coalition. All of them seemed utterly unable to grasp that the SNP could be "defending" a seat in the Aird and Loch Ness ward without having won the popular vote in that ward last time, even though precisely that kind of scenario is part and parcel of how the system works. It's perfectly possible (and it's happened before) for a party to be technically "defending" a seat even if they finished in a distant third or fourth place last time. In Aird and Loch Ness, the SNP finished second in 2012, and remained in second place in last month's by-election, but with a marked increase in their share of the vote. Therefore, as many of us patiently pointed out, the headlines that screamed "shock Lib Dem gain from SNP" were totally misleading - the SNP had actually had a moderately good result, and it was in fact an independent candidate that the Liberal Democrats had replaced as the winner of the popular vote. But all of this went completely over Smithson's head, who in a supreme act of un-self-awareness linked to my own post with the words "How one of Scotland's leading political sites reported the SNP loss of a by-election in the Highlands". That was supposed to be an ironic comment, but I suspect he didn't find it half as funny as I did.
So what has this got to do with today's events? Well, you see, the opposite scenario has just occurred. In the Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford by-election, two seats were up for grabs. The Conservatives climbed from second to first place in the popular vote and technically "gained" one of the seats from the Liberal Democrats, while the SNP slipped to second place but successfully "held" the other seat. The Liberal Democrats' vote actually went up but they "lost" the seat they were "defending". If Smithson and other Lib Dem commentators are showing any consistency at all with their "all that matters is how seats change hands" philosophy, they'll have no choice but to describe that as a success for the SNP and a disaster for the Lib Dems. But will they? Or are they suddenly going to miraculously discover that they understand how STV by-elections work after all? Oooh, the suspense...
The good news, by the way, is that the SNP's share of the vote in the by-election was unchanged (in fact on the unrounded percentages it was up slightly), even though they were leapfrogged by the Tories. As in the Loch Ness contest, this seems to be a case of the unionist vote coalescing behind the most promising candidate.
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